It is all about "perspective" when you arrive at Tipicos Don Gloria restaurant in Herndon’s K-Mart Shopping Center (outside sign says Tipicos Gloria). Looking for an elegant restaurant? Go someplace else.
However, if you want amazing Central American food, with authentic ingredients, cooked in a cramped “mom-and-pop” kitchen by ladies who really know what they are doing, this is the place you should visit. They do a lot of carryout orders, as it is a very tiny place. It is always busy at lunchtime. With only five tables bunched into a small seating area, if you have more than four in your group, consider carryout rather than dine in.
Ignore the peeling paint on the walls, the stacks of soft drinks and Red Bull in the corner, and the aging Latin posters, and just concentrate on the food, all displayed on overhead color signs. There is no pretense here—they are what they are. Their food is delicious, inexpensive, portions are very large. The place is clean, and the tile floors are washed. Many times the loud Salsa music cranking from the kitchen is competing with the Spanish horror movie on the television in the corner of the dining room. Just concentrate on the food, smile, and enjoy the cacophony.
This tiny restaurant has been there for over ten years, and if you stop and close your eyes, and you could easily be standing in a little diner in Central America—it is that authentic.
With most dinners you get your chosen meats, plus a side of cooked red beans, seasoned rice, and a fresh salad with large slices of succulent avocado, plus generous fresh lime wedges. Most dinners are well under $10.
The pupusas were amazingly good. You get to choose your fillings. We tried pork and cheese, and again the bean and cheese, and they were tender, stuffed homemade pillows, served with a side of cabbage slaw. I would definitely order those again. We also tried their fried plantains for an appetizer. This fried vegetable was golden brown, not mushy, and you could taste the subtle banana flavor plus a mellow, sweet-squash hint. It was best to be shared, as it is very rich and filling.
Carne Asada was very tender, and could easily be cut with a fork. The signature flavors were all there—the rich slices of slow-cooked beef plus peppers—we all wished we had ordered this! The beef chimichanga was deep-fried to a golden brown, and generously stuffed with bits of beef, peppers and onions. It was a real deal at $9.20.
For an added adventure, try their “agua fresca” cold drinks in the three tall containers on the counter. Ask for a taste of each before you pick one to order if you are unfamiliar with the beverages.
“Tamarindo” is made with tamarind. “Maranon” is a beautiful pale off-yellow color, like fresh lemonade, made from the cashew tree “apple.” Horchata is a milky-looking beverage made of rice, sometimes with vanilla and always with cinnamon. Some versions have sesame seeds, nutmeg, tigernuts, peanuts, almonds and cashews. (If you have any nut allergies, skip these counter drinks, and get a genuine Mexican-made soft drink, made with real sugar.)
The burritos and the fajitas also were very tasty and generous in portions. The polo asado was a hefty 1/4-chicken, with a light mustard sauce, and nice grill marks on the top. It was perfectly done, and the chicken was moist, with a nutty-cumin flavor when you tasted a mouthful.
My favorite meal was the chicken tacos. You can order as many as you want, so if you are hungry start with two. Heaped with bits of grilled chicken, peppers, onions, a slice of avocado, served with hot chili sauce and a fresh lime wedge on a very tender tortilla (two of them). When you squirt on the fresh lime juice, this is simply bursting with zingy freshness.
We left very full, and our wallets were happy. Three enormous dinners, one appetizer, and three drinks for $41. Herndon is lucky to have a restaurant like this!